Sammy and Rosie Get Laid

January 13, 2020

sammyandrosieIn My Beautiful Laundrette, director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi took a cook’s tour through the underside of a teeming, stewing London. In their follow-up collaboration, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Frears and Kureishi are back in the same milieu, but this time they’ve turned up the heat.

As the film begins, a former Pakistani cabinet minister named Rafi (Shashi Kapoor, India’s most popular actor) is returning to London, and he muses, “Before I die, I must know my beloved London again.” But his elegant city is transformed into a vision of hell: Buildings are burning, crowds are rioting, the streets are full of blood and broken glass.

Though the city may seethe, the people who live there go on with their own problems. Rafi stays with his son Sammy (Ayub Khan Din) and Sammy’s wife Rosie (Frances Barber). Rosie is something of a militant; she doesn’t believe in “getting the dinner on, or sexual fidelity.” Sammy’s lazier. He gives lip service to Rosie’s notion that all the unrest is “an affirmation of the human spirit,” but  quickly reverts to capitalist horror when the rioters overturn his own new car.

Sammy has an American mistress (Wendy Gazelle) with an interesting tattoo (the explanation of which is best supplied by the film). Rosie meets an enigmatic but kind-faced drifter (Roland Gift, lead singer of the Fine Young Cannibals) for a torrid encounter in an impromptu Third World conclave under a decaying highway bridge. Rafi hirnself calls upon an old flame (Claire Bloom) now living a respectable life.

If this begins to sound like the stuff of searing social comment, be assured that it certainly is. But the audaciousness of this film lies not merely in its social criticism (or in its I-dare-you-to-censure-me title), but also in its slashing comedic style. Sammy and Rosie Get Laid is a comedy of hysteria, a franctically funny satire in which no one is safe.

For instance. Rafi’s history includes the torture and murder of his political opponents, but this bitter past is absorbed right into the film’s general wild outrage; when Sammy and Rosie prepare a reception for Rafi, the son insists, “We can’t let a bit of torture get in the way of a party.” (This sly acceptance is aided by Kapoor’s wonderful, buttery performance.)

Of course, Margaret Thatcher is lambasted, her words accompanied by shots of the city smoking, seemingly in ruins. But the left is also susceptible to ridicule; Rosie’s shrill  lesbian pals are appalling in their deadly political correctness, and turn out to be just as capable of petty jealousy as anyone.

Kureishi, London-born of a Pakistani father and an English mother, is often strident and didactic in interviews. Which is why it’s such a pleasure to see his screenplays so marvelously multi-sided and daring. Some of Kureishi’s fire is tempered by the generosity of Stephen Frears (Prick Up Your Ears) whose more mature sense of irony makes a nice match with Kureishi’s ferociousness. Together they seem capable of taking London by storm, if they don’t burn it down first.

First published in the Herald, February 18, 1988

Such a fine and original film, with Kapoor making a particularly outrageous character. Opened in Seattle at the Egyptian theater, a good choice. And yes, political correctness was a thing, not yet co-opted by the right wing.